Tuesday Apr 21, 2009

Happy Earth Day!

La Mancha Plains

We just returned from 9 days in Spain. We traveled from Madrid to southern Andalusia without noticing coal power plants, white skies or other environmental ugliness you'd see in many other parts of the world. We did see lots of wind turbines including one huge wind turbine blade on a semi-truck ready to be installed somewhere.

We saw these windmills towering over the plains of La Mancha 500 years after Cervantes described these or similar 'giants' in Don Quixote: windgiants

We saw many solar farms. It was really obvious that Spain is a leader in alternative energy technology. Spain already produces more than 16 Gigawatts of wind power and about 1/3rd of its electricity comes from renewable energy sources. solarispain

We stayed at cortijoloslobos, a horse farm in a beautiful unspoiled part of Andalusia. The white roof, thick walls and other design features help keep the place cool in the summer. The owners took it upon themselves to care for and try to find homes for animals left homeless during this recession. cortijoloslobos

We saw Olive groves and other farms, well suited to the dry Mediterranean climate. Andalucia We drove a Citroen diesel minivan which sipped little more than 1 tank of fuel in the several hundred mile journey from Madrid to Andalucia and back. Why don't Ford and G.M. release their small diesel engine powered cars in the U.S.? We saw more of the moorish architecture with deep set (often star shaped) ceiling windows. When my wife saw these in Istanbul, she noticed that they were very similar to the Solatube we had installed in our Wisconsin kitchen in the late 1990s, allowing in light without heat.

Stars I hadn't seen since my childhood in the southwestern U.S. desert suddenly reappeared in the dark Andalusian night, reminding me that they've always been there just above the smog, clouds and light pollution. Happy earth day! Yes, it is possible to enjoy the best of this earth and still leave something for the grandchildren.

Monday Aug 18, 2008

Intercontinental demand load balancing (outsource your carbon footprint!)

While visiting family in Wisconsin last summer, I learned that a Sun Ray client attached to servers more than 3500 miles away performed at least as well as a client at my home 8 miles away and nearly as well as clients right in the Dublin office. So, I was able to use Irish wind energy while working in a coal powered corner of Wisconsin. I wondered if this technique could be formalized into demand side transcontinental IT energy load balancing GRID? I wrote up the idea and with Sun's help, it was published in the September issue of Research Disclosure. At a time when oil prices are soaring and some are predicting that up to 50% of electricity load might eventually be devoted to IT, I can think of quite a few possibilities for this kind of grid system:

  • Efficient alternative to carbon tax and trade:Wisconsin and many other parts of the world is not suitable for solar, wind, tide, hydroelectric or geothermal energy. When carbon taxes are enacted, places such as these could be at a severe economic disadvantage compared to Nevada, California and other places where carbon neutral energy sources are abundant. Industries in these places have few alternatives. They could wait for superconducting electricity grids and buy energy from elsewhere, they could pay the carbon tax and buy credits from other states, they could send jobs and industry to where energy is cheap and clean, or they could use demand load balancing to keep jobs and outsource the energy demand.
  • Failsafe UPS:When I worked in South Florida, we could almost set our watches by the daily summer thunderstorms. Sometimes it would knock our power out five times a day. Even if the power glitch lasted only one second, it took the DEC servers a half hour to reboot and certainly disrupted our work day. Ideally, our servers would have been hosted somewhere where electricity was more reliable. A small solar panel (~3500 Watts) on the roof would have been sufficient to power 150 Sun Ray clients and their monitors. The lack of servers in our office would have also made it easier for our HVAC system to cope with the Florida heat.
  • Shifting peak demand: Our least efficient, most expensive and most polluting power plants usually come on line during periods of peak demand. I've heard that some utilities paid as much as $0.45/kWh for peak electricity transferred over the conventional "supply side" electricity grid. Ever since air conditioning became popular, Wisconsin electricity demand peaks during late afternoon on the hottest days of summer. By contrast, Florida power demand peaks during the coldest winter nights because thats the only time of year when simple but inefficient electric heating systems are necessary. While there may be some occasions when both Florida and Wisconsin are at peak demand, IT demand load grid balancing could transfer load between northern and southern hemispheres if necessary. Use Australian solar energy to power your data center during a cloudy Irish winter night. Use Irish wind to power your Australian data center during a windless day.
  • Optimizing peak load across timezones:One of the reasons Dublin's Sun Ray servers seemed faster to me when I was working from Wisconsin is that by noon Wisconsin time, many of the local users in the Irish timezone would have gone home. If the global grid load balancing system were smart enough, it could predict when and where server resources would become available. As timezones approach the end of their workday, they would advertise that resources are becoming available for timezones to the west. This could help flatten the daily energy demand peaks and allow us to use more efficient power sources.

If anyone has suggestions or alternative ways of using energy, I'm open to comments. Or you might want to consider writing up the idea and submitting it for possible publication at Research Disclosure. This is a useful publication service which allows the free exchange of ideas, while discouraging patent trolls.

Tuesday Apr 22, 2008

All time environmental boondoggle awards

It isn't always obvious to people outside of the U.S. why Joe-sixpack seems to have such a powerful allergy to conservation, efficiency and sensible environmentalism. The reason is that pseudoenvironmentalists have tried to pull the wool over his eyes many times in the decades since the first earth day, and because of the abysmal level of Joe-sixpack science literacy, they've usually succeeded. Wisconsin's Bill Proxmire was known as the founder of Earth Day and for his "golden fleece" awards for wasteful Congressional spending. In his honor, here are my nominations for the all time greatest environmental boondoggles:

  • Magnetic gasoline mpg enhancers. (Add to this the German device which detects the "tachyon signature" of nuclear generated power and stops such energy at your outlet.)
  • 1970s rooftop solar heating. Perhaps I'm being a bit unfair here. Some of these actually did produce heat, some even produced enough to pay for themselves over a decade or two. But because the qualification standards for President Carter's eco-subsidies weren't well enforced, many hideously inefficient devices were constructed. Sometimes the cost of the electricity to run the water pumps, the leakage of home heat on winter nights and other issues caused these devices to waste more energy than they saved and gave solar a bad name which hasn't yet been overcome in many parts of the U.S.[Read More]

Friday Mar 28, 2008

lights out for earth hour

World Wildlife Federation (WWF) is sponsoring the first earth hour. If you'd like to participate, just turn of your lights (and other excess energy consuming devices)...

[Read More]

Friday Oct 05, 2007

Big Green, ecology isn't just hippies living in methane powered VWs anymore

VW micro bus Great photo by kesselring

It looks like Big Blue (IBM) stepped aboard the green bandwagon, welcome Big Green! It still amazes me that arguments against ecology in the U.S. (particularly by certain A.M. talk radio hosts) quickly drift into disparaging sensible environmentalism by using the "environmental wacko" meme. If environmentalism is wacky, then I guess we're in good company with other wackos such as IBM and General Electric. When did environmentalism become so boring? I sure hope I won't have to wear a blue suit, white shirt and red necktie in order to save the earth.

UPDATE:As a counter balance to my "IBM dresscode history" link, here is a link to the history of Sun's CEO and his ponytail. I don't see anything about a VW microbus.

Wednesday Oct 03, 2007

The Hunt for Cool October

I'm not entirely sure what magnetically activated microbladder pumps have to do with magnetohydrodynamics except that both use magnets and both can be efficient, quiet and cool. It's an interesting technology for Sun to hold a patent on and probably far more efficient at moving heat from the chip than Peltier devices which only move heat out of your device with 5-6% efficiency and turn the other 94-95% of the energy into more waste heat! If they weren't so god-awful noisy, we'd probably be better off cooling our CPUs with hilsch vortex tubes.

The magnetic micropump sounds like a good idea until the time when we can recruit Maxwell's demon to haunt and cool our PCs.

Tuesday Sep 25, 2007

Strato:Carbon neutral webhosting by 2008

Blackbox next to wind turbine

I love this quote from Strato's CEO Damian Schmidt, "Bad code is a climate killer." It might not be easily visible to individual laptop or Sun Ray users, but when the power load of a runaway applet, inefficient webserver or poorly designed database engine is multiplied across the world, eventually you do see an impact on profitability, oil prices and ecology. Strato is doing the right thing by planning to be the first company to power its data centers with 100% renewable energy by 2008. Awesome! I especially like the fact that Strato is making use of Sun's Niagara technology. [Read More]




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